Lancashire is at risk of losing out as the government gears up to make major spending decisions which could be felt well into the next decade.
A meeting of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) skills and employment panel heard that a “two-tier” system had developed across the country, made up of those areas boasting a combined authority – and others, like Lancashire, who remain without.
Combined authorities are umbrella organisations which allow all the councils in a sub-region to make collective decisions on issues which can have an impact across the wider area – and secure extra government cash. Lancashire has operated a shadow combined authority for nearly three years – but differences of opinion have prevented a fully-functioning version from getting off the ground.
Panel members heard that the county has been sidelined in some key discussions ahead of the government’s comprehensive spending review, the Treasury’s medium-term financial plan due to be published later this year.
Lancashire County Council’s interim director of growth, planning and environment, Richard Kenny, said the region needed to get onto the “fast track”.
“At the moment, we are clearly missing out. There are conversations going on in parts of the country about ideas for spending announcements on specific projects and we don’t appear to be part [of them].
“We need to start pushing to become part of them,” Mr. Kenny said.
He also told the meeting that Northern Powerhouse minister – and Rossendale and Darwen MP – Jake Berry had this week “expressed disappointment” that Lancashire had been unable to agree on a formal method of collaboration, but was “hopeful” that a proposal could emerge after Brexit.
However, the meeting heard that there were other ways of impressing government – including a promise to create a long-term vision for the county in the form of a “Lancashire Plan” and the on-going development of an industrial strategy for the county.
Burnley Council leader Mark Townsend – representing Lancashire leaders on the LEP skills panel – said the county needs to be bolder if it is to avoid constantly “playing catch up” with areas which have already taken strides down the road towards devolution.
“Those areas are moving away from us and so we have to do something innovative,” Cllr Townsend said.
“We can’t say we mustn’t miss out – we already have missed out.”
Elsewhere in the North West, both Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region operate as combined authorities with elected mayors, after securing devolution deals from the government.
The shadow Lancashire combined authority continues to meet each month, having first been established almost three years ago.